Quest for a Blue Map
No. 2 Russellville faces No. 9 Eufaula in Class 5A semis
BIRMINGHAM – The players for both teams will be introduced before Wednesday's Class 5A semifinal game at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center, but Russellville coach Michael Smith won't need to listen very closely as the Eufaula roster is announced.
That's because Smith coached at Eufaula for 15 years prior to becoming the boys basketball coach at Russellville. He led the Eufaula girls team from 1991 until 2005 and the boys from 2000 until 2005. In just three seasons, he has guided the No. 2 Golden Tigers to their first Final Four appearance since 2002, when Russellville fell to Anniston 79-58.
"(Eufaula senior point guard) Cornell Carrett started for me as a freshman, so it's going to be a game of a lot of emotions from my standpoint and probably from their standpoint," said Smith, who won two state titles in girls basketball with Eufaula in 1994 and 1997. "Most of these kids – 13 of them – played on my AAU team in Eufaula, and I was training them only three or four years.
"When it comes down to it, this is my first state tournament appearance with a boys team, and this is Eufaula's first appearance since 1999. We just happen to be meeting in the Final Four, and the better team's going to win (today), and that will be the team that does the right things."
If the Golden Tigers (31-0) win, they will advance to play the Parker-Butler winner Friday at 3 p.m. Russellville's last state title came in 1982 by defeating Sylacauga 61-58. The last Final Four appearance for Eufaula (25-7) was in 1999, when the Tigers won the state championship.
Smith said Eufaula's quickness and athleticism will post the biggest challenges.
"They're athletic, and they've all been playing four or five years together, and they have four or five players that are able to do the same as us, as far as being balanced on offense," he said. "We're going to have to mix it up and show different defenses. Their offense relies on a combination of shooting and inside scoring, and their style of play on offense will depend on how well they shoot their 3-point shot."
Russellville, which has scored 77.3 points per game this season while holding opponents to an only 54.7 average, will rely primarily on its well-conditioned starting rotation – senior point guard Siran Winston, senior shooting guards Jordan Hammond and Cory Trapp, junior forward Jermaine Bates and sophomore forward Terence Smith – to adapt to Eufaula, which has an 18-0 record in 5A games this season.
"We'll get the opportunity to look at our 3-point shots – it will be a matter of just hitting them," Smith said. "I think we will have the opportunity to penetrate and get to the basket, and I think our advantage is we've been able to adjust so far to the different styles of play that teams have used against us this season."
Russellville is the only undefeated team in boys basketball this season but the Golden Tigers have struggled early from 3-point range during the playoffs while being outrebounded by Muscle Shoals and Wenonah.
The Golden Tigers held an edge on the boards during the season – they averaged 34.3 rebounds per game while opponents only grabbed 29.5, including a 13.5-8.1 advantage in offensive rebounding.
"That's something we have done poorly the last two games, and rebounding will cover up a lot of flaws for a team," Smith said.
"We are approaching this game like we normally do, but we have got to do a better job of blocking out and we'll need to hit more shots than we have in the past few games."